AUSTIN, Texas -- My favorite factoid gathered by the 15,000 underutilized reporters in Philadelphia is that the opening gavel of the Republican National Convention was "acoustically enhanced" by a sound engineer to sound "better than real." Yup.

I loved the blind mountain-climber giving the Pledge of Allegiance. (Hint to Dems: In South Texas, we have twin dwarfs with 12 fingers apiece who play the accordion.) Of course, everybody noticed that there were more black faces on the stage than in the audience, but that's nothing.

At the 1972 Republican convention, there was an Ethnic Night party at which I saw John Volpe, the Italian-American secretary of transportation, doing the frug while a Chinese girl sang "Never on Sunday" in Yiddish. Is this a great country or what? Except the Republicans have proved yet again the tragic truth that White People Can't Clap On Beat. Or is it just Republicans?

By the way, one quarter of the Republican delegates are millionaires, and fewer than 10 percent of them make less than $50,000 a year.

John McCain wimped out. If Colin Powell (what a speech! what a guy!) could take on affirmative action for lobbyists, prisons and corporate tax loopholes, McCain could have at least mentioned campaign finance reform.

Naturally we were all delighted to see Big George Bush and Bill Clinton start to mix it up -- biff, bam, pow. Great stuff. A nice illustration of the apparently genetic Bush trait of screaming loudly: "My opponent is attacking me! This is negative politics!" after whichever Bush has just stuck a shiv into said opponent. Nice to hear a lecture on negative campaigning from the side that brought us the Willie Horton ad.

In the ongoing rewrite of Little George's record, the recent Rand study of public schools is being used to claim that Texas schools are now "the best in the nation." The Rand study ranked Texas 27th out of 44 states and did NOT say that higher standards, accountability or ending social promotion were the keys to improving the public schools. It said that smaller class sizes, better classroom equipment and spending more money on poor kids were the keys to improvement. All of that has been done in Texas, but none of it by George W.

Speaking of Bush's record, the slogan "Leave No Child Behind" is actually offensive. This is the man who tried to knock 200,000 poor kids out of a health insurance program funded by 3-to-1 federal matching dollars. This is the guy who thinks that a useless property tax cut is more important than funding kindergarten. I say "useless" because most school districts in the state promptly upped their tax rates.

Rumor has it that W.'s speech will claim he's a regular guy because he's from Midland. You might keep in mind that Midland is only half of a town. Rich, white-collar Republicans live in Midland. Working-class people live in Odessa.

Last year I asked the ACLU board member from Midland if they were having any trouble with gay-bashing out there. She said, "Oh, hell, honey, there's not a gay in Midland who will come out of the closet for fear people will think they're Democrats."

Enough of this piffle -- back to the real story. You will have noticed that California, the first state to deregulate utilities, is now in a desperate bind for electricity, with rolling blackouts around the state and the bills up by 100 percent.

Remember who sold us on deregulation? Remember the lobbyists who stuck Texas consumers with $8 billion worth of "stranded costs"? Remember the story of Bush's legislative liaison guy in a full-scale panic, racing into the committee room to stop an amendment that would have forced industrial and commercial users to pay 50 percent of those costs?

OK, connect the dots here: Utilities dereg, a bad deal for practically everybody (you, too, will be enjoying summertime more without electricity), benefits a select few -- among them the Enron Corp. of Houston. Guess who ranks as W. Bush's single largest campaign contributor? Yup.

The only news story at this convention, and at the upcoming Democratic fest, is money. Who gives how much, and what do they get for it?

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.